Grantee Research

Access to Graduate School: A Quantitative Study of Interest in Selective MBA Programs

Document Type

Issue/Research Brief/Blog

Publication Date



MBA programs, graduate and professional education, race and ethnicity, gender, international students


Alumni of selective graduate programs, such as those from top business and law schools, have high lifetime earnings and are overrepresented in influential positions in society. Given limitations in nationally representative datasets, many existing studies of graduate school enrollment in the literature focus only on the United States and collapse programs of different types, fields, and selectivity in their analyses. These limitations may mask important differences in access to programs across the graduate school landscape. Though business is one of the most common fields of graduate study, relatively little is known about pathways and barriers to enrolling in a Master of Business Administration (MBA), including why women, some racial/ethnic groups, and individuals from low socioeconomic backgrounds are underrepresented in top-ranked programs. Little also is known about pathways and barriers to access for international students. This study addressed this knowledge need by analyzing data from a survey of 4,082 bachelor’s degree holders in five countries who were screened as potentially qualified applicants for a top-ranked MBA program but who had, as yet, not applied. Descriptive findings from this analysis showed interest in graduate business programs—and barriers to applying to a full-time MBA program—vary by gender, race/ethnicity, parent education, home country, the intersection of these characteristics, and other variables. In multivariate analyses, I found women and those whose parents have earned less than a bachelor’s degree reported lower levels of interest in a top-ranked, full-time MBA after controlling for other variables. Although African Americans and Hispanics were underrepresented among bachelor’s degree holders, those who had a bachelor’s degree were more likely than Whites with a bachelor’s degree to report interest in a top-ranked, full-time MBA, net of other variables. Home country was an important mediating characteristic to understanding access with those outside the United States reporting higher levels of interest in a selective MBA program after controlling for other variables. These findings have practical implications for graduate school leaders aiming to enroll a more diverse set of students and for scholars examining the increasing importance of access to graduate school in understanding social stratification patterns.